Chris T-T is a Brighton-based singer-songwriter. His work tends to be political in nature, and he has now released five albums. Currently on tour with his band the Hood Rats, he’s been supporting Frank Turner in Britain, in the States and shortly in Europe.Pennyblackmusic caught up with Chris in Manchester, where despite running late due to the awful traffic around the city, he remained calm, collected and kept his sense of humour long enough to give an interview.
PB : You started off as a journalist. What made you want to change direction and become a songwriter and musician ?
C : Well, to be honest I've always been making music and journalism was just a day job. I think anyone would enjoy making music more, and also I wasn't a very glamorous journalist. I was just doing really boring stuff at the Press Association. So although it felt like I was at the heart of things, like current affairs, I wasn't getting to meet famous people. I definitely always had wanted to be making music and in fact the point where the career change happened was really because I was making enough money from music to pay the rent and quit my day job.
PB : You're based in Brighton and you seem to have hooked up with a lot of other musicians down there. Is it quite a close knit group ?
C : It definitely is, because when I moved down I planned not to become a Brighton musician. I was even going to tell everyone I was still in London. It was just somewhere to live. But then what happened is that community kind of bullies you into becoming incorporated in a really nice way. So suddenly they were all at the gigs and people were saying, "You've got to come and play with us."
It's primarily been the British Sea Power / Brakes scene that's been really welcoming. I think that's to a certain extent begun to dissolve now because neither band has become successful enough that they're gigging all the time. I think in a way, 5 or 6 years ago or even a bit longer there was real hope for several bands in Brighton to be really huge and deserved it and maybe the bands that have got biggest from Brighton aren't the ones that are the most talented.
It's almost as if there was a really burgeoning grass roots scene and it got hijacked by the stage school indie crowd, who are much more trained. So you have the fact that Sea Power are still a cult band while the Kooks are chart topping stars.
Actually a funny thing happened to me recently that made me warm to the Kooks a little bit which is, that I've always slagged them off, and then some DJ on Radio 2 said that you've got to listen to the guitar work as it's brilliant. Ever since then I have to keep listening when I want to turn off to hear what the guitarist is doing and he's actually brilliant. So that's a weird one!
There is that constant feeling that there are bands that almost made history from Brighton and now they're seen as jobbing cult bands.
PB : You do a lot of collaborative work with Frank Turner. How did that come about ?
C : That's primarily been this year. We'd only met briefly twice until January. I'd seen him live as well, because people kept telling me he was playing my songs. I thought that was really flattering, I thought, "Wow there's someone that's actually talented out there covering my stuff." I was blown away by that and when I got signed to Xtra Mile it transpired that he'd been quite a vocal part in that happening, you know behind the scenes Frank Turner is also on Xtra Mile-Ed). When they were considering me, he'd been going, "Yes, sign him." So that was fantastic.
When we met, we toured the States in January and, thank god, we just got on really well. One of the good things about Frank is that while we've been supporting him when he's on stage he's been acknowledging us as well. He's incredibly courteous in a way that a lot of acts aren't so it's very easy to hang out with him. Touring the States and getting wasted in the desert and things like that helped a lot.
I'm planning to make a film about him, because we've got tons of footage from this year and we're going to Europe, so I'm going to try and make a film about my year with Frank.
PB : Is that something you've done before,filmmaking?
C : No! But we'll see; I'll get someone who can actually edit to help.
PB : Talking about your music now, you've just made a trilogy of albums about the downfall and decay of London. What made you want to write about that?
C : To be honest that's just what came out. When I did the first one, 'The 253', I wasn't planning on writing a trilogy and I was just, seriously, trying to write an album about bus routes. In between finishing that and releasing it I realised there was a load more songs along those lines that widened that theme out and that's how it transpired. I'm not sure that it was 100% successful in terms of what I wanted to do because the final record, 'Capital', is too general and too violent. And in fact for the next record it's the first time I'm not going to have a theme.
PB : So have you started thinking about what comes next?
C : Yeah, I was supposed to hand in all my demos before we came on this tour, and I haven't finished them. So as soon as I get home I'm going to have to finish off a load of demos and hand them in. I've got the songs written, I've got loads and loads of songs so it's just a case of trying to work out which ones to do.
PB : Did you think that the idea of the downfall of London in 'Capital' was particularly relevant given current developments in the financial markets?
C : Yeah, because I'm totally prescient and psychic and I should be Chancellor of the Exchequer right now and I know exactly what's going to happen . . . and no, I think it's been obvious to people who aren't caught up in the excitement of the kind of boom, that it was just a long boom. Everyone said, "Oh we were taken by surprise" ; really they were taken by surprise because they had a great big hard on for being rich. So it was obvious, not just to me but a lot of people out there, that really knew.
The funny thing about the economic boom is that every single one of us knew that f**k me the houses are overpriced, fuel is ridiculous, f**k me people can't afford this and why is it all happening? It's all a big scam. It's like that myth about the fish all swimming in the same direction. If you've got a lot of fish in a fishing net, like from 'Finding Nemo', if all the fish stopped and swam in the same direction they'd break through the net and they'd escape, but we're not capable of it. That's a bit harsh really.
I think in a way this album, 'Capital', is a lot more relevant to the current political situation than my political album '9 Red Songs' was, although 'Bankrupt' from '9 Red Songs'is very relevant because that's what it was all about. It's more about the feelings than what's happened.
'We Are the King of England', the single from the new album, if you listen to the way the lyrics work, a year and a half ago when it was first written, it didn't quite work because it was my myth of the future. If you look at the villains who now say, "You need us to save you as we've got your money." They are the characters in 'We Are the King of England' absolutely. They are the corporation that says, "Right, you have to bail us out." Or they are the Chancellor of the Exchequer that says, "Right here is all the tax money to bail out all the banks." They are the villains, so yes I stand by it.
PB : You're quite left wing politically, and you're doing some writing for 'The Morning Star'. How did that come about and can you tell me about it ?
C : I met them at a gig. There's one guy who's been a fan and they did a feature on me and did an interview. We got on really well and it went from there. They've got some really brilliant, imaginative writers but I think from the outside people think of it in the same box as 'Socialist Worker', but of course it's not. You won't find people selling 'The Morning Star' on the street. It's in WH Smith's. It's a legit thing. I think there is room there for some cultural stuff. I'm really just still learning. Writing a column is so tough. To write an amount of words each week on something interesting is the art form of journalism, but it is tricky, and I'm not good at it yet but I will be. 'The Morning Star' is a great paper to learn on. They're wonderful and they deal with me being on tour and a bit flaky really well.
PB : Are you involved in any other political activism ?
C : No I haven't got time. If you're a songwriter people ask you to do benefit gigs, and my experience with left wing promoters is that they're the worst payers so I'm always very loathe to get involved and I only do it if the situation is right.
PB : There's a danger with writing political songs that you could come across as preaching, which I think you're aware of as you've written a song about that. Are you very critical of your own work to avoid doing that?
C : I'm very critical of my own work, but it isn't specifically, "Oh I mustn't be preachy." It's just that I don't want to make crap music. I am a bit of a preachy person so I have to rein that in but criticising one's own work is more about the music and getting that right.
On that note we ended our discussion so that Chris could do another interview before he went on stage.
The photographs that accompany this article were taken exclusively for Pennyblackmusic by Neil Bailey.